Winter...Alone, Together

Daily Life | winter, self, inner life

December 21, 2016 | by Amy Ferguson

red berries on a tree in winter

Red berries on a tree in winter, StockSnap

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.
Andrew Wyeth

Here, it is six degrees. The snow drapes the trees and is so deep it threatens to overtop my boots. Here, snow often arrives before it’s officially winter. In Michigan we love the first snows, require its backdrop for our Christmases and the holiday season, but after the new year many would just as well be done with it. I am pretty much a realist—I can’t change the weather so I might as well revel in it, which can mean getting out in the stark, cold weather or cocooning myself inside. For me it’s essential to do both.

I come by this attitude honestly. I grew up in an old farmhouse in a rural area prone to the weather that sweeps in off Lake Michigan, the cold dry air gusting over its warmer water and dumping it in the form of inches of snow miles inland. Our house sat back an acre from the road, and in the winter an hour of snow blowing could be lost in minutes if the conditions were just right. On a few occasions, we pulled groceries in from the road on our sleds because a once-clear drive had filled quickly with drifting snow.

Suiting up one morning against a bitter wind and nearly blinding snow, my dad and I walked together silently (the wind’s roar suppressing any attempt at conversation) down a stretch of desolate road, a landscape of white with blurred edges. Our destination was Payne’s Country Corners, a small store a little less than a mile away, where we would buy the Sunday paper. Red cheeked and with a frozen beard, Dad made our purchase and tucked the fat Detroit Free Press into the depths of his coat to keep it dry on the walk back, as the snow drifts in the road continued to grow. At home, we unfolded the paper, doling out the funnies, crossword, advice, news to Mom and my three siblings, and we all sat together, alone, reading.

I was reminded of this seasonal rhythm last week, decades after that walk in the snowstorm. Working to clear our drives of snow, my shovel syncopated with the scrape of the neighbor’s. We tossed snow in silence, together, alone, the steam of our frosty breaths punctuating the air. At the same moment we each paused and leaned on our shovels, chatting about the forecast and his pending drive 90 miles to the east, running ahead of the storm where he would sit, alone, together, to watch his son perform in a play.

Winter’s allure draws us both inside and outside, alone, together. In this season I am content to plumb the depths of quiet, of loneliness, of separation. Navigating this interior I can see better the others who travel, in their loneliness, together with me, bringing color to our world like that splash of red that animates the sparse beauty of a Wyeth canvas. 

Amy Ferguson is a communication specialist at the Fetzer Institute.